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Italian court orders Iran asset freeze

ImageFinancial Times – A court in Italy has ordered the freezing of an Iranian government account held in a Rome bank in what lawyers say represents an unprecedented legal victory for three US families seeking compensation from Iran for its alleged support of Palestinian suicide bombings that killed their relatives.
Lawyers and activists in Washington said their success in Italy was likely to be followed by similar cases against Iran in other courts in Europe and possibly Asia. The ruling could also open the floodgates to similar civil cases against the Islamic regime and other states accused by the US of sponsoring terror.
A civil court in Rome ordered Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL) last week to freeze an account held by the Iranian government, drawing diplomatic protests from Tehran on the basis that Iran’s official accounts were protected by the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations.
"It’s not about blood money," said Steven Flatow, a US lawyer from New Jersey whose daughter Alisa was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber on a bus in Gaza in 1995. He told the Financial Times that the three families brought their case to demonstrate they had the power to deliver the message to Iran that it should stop supporting terrorist groups.
The other two US families involved sought compensation for Sara Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld, an engaged couple killed together by a Hamas suicide bomber on a Jerusalem bus in 1996.
The three families were the first to take advantage of a 1996 law that authorised Americans to sue for damages those nations designated by the US as sponsors of international terrorism.
The US courts accepted arguments that Iran had a direct role in both bombings through its support and training of the militant groups that claimed responsibility. In 1998 and 2000 the courts awarded damages of $374m plus interest. After wrangling with the Clinton administration, the three families shared about $56m taken from Iranian assets already frozen in the US.
They then took their case across the Atlantic to seek the balance and continue their campaign for justice.
Legal experts said the Rome court had adopted the rulings of the US courts. A further hearing is expected to determine how to award the frozen funds.
The Iranian government did not contest any of the US or Italian cases in court, but sought redress in direct contact with the capitals.
According to Italian reports, an Italian foreign ministry official wrote to the Rome court in an apparent effort to stop the freezing. But Gianfranco Fini, foreign minister, intervened on behalf of the Americans, according to Mr Flatow.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who has followed the case closely, said: "Nations that sponsor terrorism like Iran need to stop hiding behind legal technicalities that help them evade accountability. Those who have suffered at the hands of these terrorists should not be denied justice."